“Y’all wanna hear a story about how me and this b-tch here fell out?” This is the famous first line of Twitter’s wildest thread and the opening of Janicza Bravo’s Zola, the adaptation of A’ziah “Zola” King’s—also an executive producer—epic Twitter tale about two strippers who take a weekend trip to Tampa for some quick cash before things take an insane turn.
The film recently made its premiere at Sundance and while initially wary of how this adaptation would come together on screen, Bravo and co-writer, actor-playwright Jeremy O’Harris, blend social media into the film in an innovative and seamless way. Likes, feeds and social notifications almost become characters of their own. But a major highlight of the film is the way Bravo presents Zola’s (VH1’s Hit the Floor Taylour Paige) relationship with the people around her, particularly Stefani.
Paige gives a magnetic performance as the titular character, who heads to Tampa with a stripper named Stefani (Riley Keough), her dim-witted boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun) and Stefani’s mysterious roommate X (Fear of the Walking Dead‘s Colman Domingo). Level-headed and wiser than her companions, it’s Zola’s reaction to the indignities and microaggressions she faces along the way that will be familiar to many Black women. Stefani’s appropriation of Black womanhood, for example—Keough and Bravo worked on the character together—is certainly frustrating to watch but Zola breaks the fourth wall throughout the film to add witty asides that will resonate with Black women, making it feel like we’re sharing an inside joke.
The entire film almost feels like a fever dream and Bravo manages to perfectly capture the chaos of King’s viral story. The cast delivers great performances—Domingo is a scene-stealer and Atlanta’s TS Madison makes a hilarious cameo–and it will be interesting to see how Zola‘s use of social media inspires other internet-influenced films.
But most importantly, it’s wonderful that this project was placed in Bravo’s hands. Without a Black woman at the helm, this film may have been totally different. It’s hard to imagine anyone else bringing this Twitter saga to life.